Wine entrepreneur takes center stage at Affiliate Summit

14 January 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -– Wine entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk was making his keynote address at the sold-out Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas Monday morning when in the midst of his spirited speech he began dropping a few expletives.

"There's no editor of a magazine out there today that can look at your content and say, 'You're writing sucks,'" said the 34-year-old, who has developed a cult-like following to his daily "Because in today's world, the public decides whether or not your writing sucks. Our business has eliminated the gate keepers."


Gary Vaynerchuk displays the N.Y. Jets jersey that was given to him at the Affiliate Summit West conference in Las Vegas Monday. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City)

"The bad economy is the greatest thing that could have happened to us hustlers in the business who are out there every day in the trenches," he said moments later. "Because we have 'Johnny Jerkoff' at Gillette looking at his budget and saying, 'What's this $100,000 a year we're spending on social media? Let's cut that shit.' And that's a great thing for people like us."

"If you think Twitter is going to be your platform to make money for the rest of your life, you're fucking crazy," he bellowed later on in the speech. "Because, trust me, the platform is going to eventually change so you have to be ready for that."

Finally, he decided to address his not-fit-for-Sunday-School choice of words.

"I promised myself I wasn't going to swear today," said the man who has been dubbed as "the first wine guru of the Web Video Era" as the crowd let out a hearty laugh. "Oh well, so much for New Years' resolutions."

Despite his language, Vaynerchuk captivated the crowd Monday with his charismatic style and unscripted remarks. After watching his unique gift of gab up close and personal there's no wonder Vaynerchuk draws as many as 80,000 a day to his video podcast.

Vaynerchuk was born in the former U.S.S.R. (now Russia) and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 3-years-old. His parents eventually opened a liquor store in New Jersey and after spending most of his childhood working at the store, the young Vaynerchuk developed an affinity for wine. No, he didn't start drinking as a child, but he did become wildly interested in the various flavors associated with wine and how different regions of the world developed different flavors.

Vaynerchuk's passion for the wine business helped his entrepreneurial spirit come forward. He eventually became the store's co-owner and director of operations and rebranded the name and called it Wine Library. His growing customer base depended on his wine selections and with the help of the Internet, Vaynerchuk turned Wine Library from a $4-million business to a $45 million business in a mere five years. In 2003, he became the youngest recipient of Market Watch magazine's "Market Watch Leader" award.

"I've always said that if you build a business around passion, you're 90 percent there," he told the capacity crowd of affiliate business people Monday. "That's why I'm so excited to be here today because I know most of you are passionate about your business and you know how to monetize it."

But as prosperous as the Wine Library has been for Vaynerchuk, he has turned himself into an Internet sensation thanks to He began producing the shows in 2006. He releases five videos a week and they are taped from the Wine Library store. The shows consist of wine tastings as well as other wine-related topics such as how to buy wine and where certain wines acquire their tastes. On Fridays, Vaynerchuk sits on his office couch and answers questions submitted via his Facebook application, Ask Gary.

He says the reason for the show's success is that he never uses a script and always keeps the tape rolling no matter what may happen during the session.

"I've never said, 'Take Two' in my life," said Vaynerchuk, who used the opening of Wednesday's show to announce that his wife Liz is pregnant with their first child. "That's what makes the show real. If my office phone happens to ring or I spill some wine on myself, we just keep rolling."

During his one-hour speech Monday, Vaynerchuk, who has been featured by media outlets across the world including on television by Nightline, Late Night With Conan O'Brien and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, talked often about "building brand equity."

"If your business model is dependent on another site like Google driving all your customers to you then you are already broken," said Vaynerchuk, an unabashed fan of the N.Y. Jets who says his goal in life is to make enough money so he can buy the team. "You need to build brand equity because if you do that, you can almost never lose it.

"Look at Microsoft. When's the last time they did something right? But yet they're still a brand everyone knows. For Christ's sake I just saw Barry Williams from the Brady Bunch on TV the other day. How long has that show been off the air? Yet, there's Barry Williams on a talk show.

"The point is, if you're happy running 9,000 different sites that go in a million different directions, that's fine. But wouldn't you rather build a brand that you can really sink your teeth into? Something that you're passionate about?"

Vaynerchuk also pleaded with his audience to have patience and to continue to "hustle every day."

"I'm pretty sure that everybody in here is capable of running a business that can make $50,000 to $100,000 a year," he said. "But why settle for singles when you can hit home runs? Build a company that you're passionate about and build yourself brand equity. That's when you are going to start knocking it out of the park."

* * *

Following Vaynerchuk's keynote address, the Affiliate West sessions continued throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday. Highlights included an Advertising on Facebook discussion led by Dan Murray of Ravenwood Marketing Inc. and a session about The Future of Performance Marketing that was hosted by Larry Adams of Google and Jim Jessup of Yahoo!

On Monday night the Pinnacle Awards Gala was held and the winners were: Affiliate of the Year - Mike Allen; Affiliate Manager of the Year - Angel Djambazov; Exceptional Merchant -; Affiliate Marketing Advocate - Melanie Seery; Best Blogger - Scott Jangro Affiliate; Marketing Legend - Kellie Stevens.

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Affiliate Summit West 2009
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